STANIEL CAY & EXUMAS, BAHAMAS

Eco hotel: Embrace Resort

July 2016

This travel story… it has honestly been one of the most meditated and detail-oriented ones I’ve chosen to share on the blog.  You see, Bahamas is a nature-loving paradise and one of my favorite places on earth but- even though I felt every photo I posted on my social media during this trip increased everyone’s desire to travel, explore and connect with nature- there was one photo that raised many negative comments and a hurtful discussion between some of you. It truthfully came as a shock to me to see how people can jump right into criticizing, judging and throwing nasty comments around without even taking a moment to breathe, analyze that there’s always two sides to each story, and choose words carefully before spitting them out. For that reason and many more, this travel post will be a little longer than previous ones. In this one, I will not only be sharing my entire Bahamian experience and stay at Staniel Cay’s eco-friendly hotel “Embrace Resort", but also my thoughts about “Pig Island” (aka the island of the “Swimming Pigs”) after visiting it myself.

Day 1: My team and I flew from Miami to Nassau (40 min flight) and from there took an 8-seater flight to Staniel Cay. This completely caught me by surprise! I had never flown in a tiny plane before and, while booking the tickets, I never in a million years imagined our plane would be that small!! Yes, I panicked! Especially during every slight shake (turbulence gets intensified on a small plane) but I also breathed my way out of it and found myself smiling uncontrollably 5 minutes after takeoff. The views of those turquoise waters combined with the noise of the propeller turned out to be amazingly soothing! 30 minutes later we reached our hotel. Literally! Embrace Resort is located right next to the airport. Like 10 footsteps next to it! This cute sustainable hotel and the cottage I stayed at were entirely designed and focused on the concept of coexisting with and protecting Mother Nature. From water and energy reduction practices to waste water management systems, recycle and compost programs, sustainability training programs for the staff, solar lamps in the garden area, and community involvement to encourage other businesses in this island to be thoughtful of nature. A conscious movement I never thought I would see in the hotel industry of Bahamas.
My team and I were welcomed by Monique and Kelly (our favorite staff members!). Monique directed us to our villas and gave us a hotel tour. Embrace has seven eco villas but is still in the process of construction. In the coming year they expect to add a spa, fitness center, meeting space on the island, along with a “luxurious poolside cabana and an upscale restaurant featuring new twists on classic island delicacies.” These additions will make it the first and only eco hotel on the island with such amenities. In case you’re wondering the name “EMBRACE” is an acronym of their 7 villas which were designed to represent the islands they were named after: Eluthera, Mayaguana, Bimini, Ragged Island, Andros, Cat Island, Exuma. I stayed at the Cat Island villa. Beautiful villa with yellow and turquoise exterior walls, colorful interior details everywhere, windows in every corner, tons of light, a mini fridge, coffee maker, Apple TV (that caught me by surprise too!), and eco-friendly bath products. The hotel also provided us with an electric golf cart to drive around Staniel Cay. This was by far one of the most entertaining things! Driving around this tiny 3-km long island with only 118 full-time residents, clear blue waters to my left and colorful houses to my right was absolutely priceless! Staniel Cay also has two petite supermarkets and one well-known restaurant and bar (Yacht Club). All 4 minutes away from the hotel. That same day, we drove around the island and enjoyed a veggie burger at the Yacht Club, which is located right next to the ocean and the dock where all boats park. Near the dock you will get to see and swim with dozens of nurse sharks (they are everywhere in Bahamas) and rays!
 
Day 2: This was probably the most adventurous and entertaining day of all. We booked a half-day boat tour with Monique at the front desk. Kelly then drove us- and our cooler full of snacks, drinks, and water- to the pier to meet our captain. A 30-minute boat ride later through the most beautiful turquoise waters I have ever seen, we reached our first destination: Pig Island. (aka the island of the Swimming Pigs). Here’s the story behind this island. Apparently these piggies got to the island as a free way for locals to raise pigs. Later on, some tour agencies started rescuing other pigs from farmers and brought them to the same island to create a happy environment for them to roam free. There was one vegan blogger that wrote an article trashing this island, which caused some negative reactions the minute I posted a photo of it. Here are my thoughts about it:
1) Farmers killing these island pigs- once they are old- to feed their families: We sadly live in a world where pig farming is a $4.4+ billion industry (US numbers only) and one of the cruelest industries there is. Pigs pretty much spend their entire lives trapped in tiny cages where they can barely move or turn around, and female pigs are used as breeding machines and are separated from their babies when they are 10 days old. Once the piglets have been separated from their mother, the mother is impregnated again and this cycle continues for 3-4 years before she is slaughtered. In numbers, "on any given day in the U.S., there are more than 68 million pigs on factory farms, and more than 115 million are killed for food each year.” Even though we, vegans, dream of a world where all animals are seen as friends rather than food, the reality is we are not there yet. The conscious movement is growing but there’s still a long way to go. So, to discover an island where pigs are giving the liberty to run around freely, to not be trapped in cages awaiting their death row, to give birth to their babies in peace and be able to raise them until they are grownups is the first and biggest step we as human beings can take towards consciousness. If locals kill them to feed their families once the pigs are old and to prevent their overpopulation (as this vegan blogger said), I understand this. I do not support it but I understand it. Every island in Bahamas gets their food imported from the US or other countries, making it extremely expensive to afford it. (I paid $5 for a single MANGO!) Locals have to fight to find ways to feed their families at prices they can afford. And no, not everyone in Bahamas is vegan! Actually, I might’ve been the only vegan person on Staniel Cay!
 
2) Education: Most of us have been raised and educated to include pig meat in our diets. I was one of them until I turned 23 and watched documentaries that opened my eyes to the cruelty behind my diet but not a lot of us have experienced that awakening yet. To discover an island where tourists get to interact with pigs is another step towards change. I spent an hour in this island and watched kids and their parents hug, kiss and feed veggies to these earthlings. Where else do you get to do that? There are not a lot of pig sanctuaries in the world. This is probably one of the only islands that promotes animal freedom and offers an opportunity for the 200,000+ tourists visiting every year to connect with pigs and learn to see them as souls rather than food.
 
3) Sun exposure: The same blogger also complained that these pigs are exposed to the sun 24/7. There are hundreds of palm trees on that island. I know this because I sat underneath one of them to cover myself from the sun and to play with one of the piglets. Plus, pigs protect themselves from the sun by rolling on mud (in this case sand) and covering their backs with it. This is in their nature.
 
4) Food: These pigs are probably the most pampered pigs ever! They get over 300lbs of food (veggies, fruits, etc) and water daily just from ONE single tour agency. That does not include all the extra food and love they receive from tourists.
 
5) I enjoyed every second on this island, guys! Specially watching the tourists interact with these smart creatures. It’s a unique experience.

(Info and numbers gathered from: Peta and BahamasB2B.)
After visiting pig island, our captain took us to the 2-mile long sandbar. A place in the middle of the ocean where the sand is high enough and the tide low enough for you to walk through knee-high clear blue waters. BEAUTIFUL! Note: please do take a hat, a cooler with drinks, and sunblock since there are NO palm trees to cover yourself from the sun here.
Lastly, we visited Compass Cay. Tiny island with a few private cottages and homes, and famous for its marina with a deck, a vintage bar/shop and the location where you can see and swim with dozens of wild nurse sharks. This was by far one of the best experiences I’ve taken part of in my life! I didn’t even think twice before jumping from the deck straight into the ocean to swim next to these magnificent creatures! No, they are not dangerous. Actually, we kill more sharks per year than they kill us! That's 100million sharks killed every year for their fins, meat, oil and the famous Shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in Asia. We are killing animals that take years to reproduce and play an essential role in the oceans by keeping marine life and ecosystems in balance. Healthy oceans are extremely important guys since our oceans produce more oxygen than rainforests, remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and control our planet’s temperature. Believe it or not, oceans are our best defense against global warming and sharks are very much needed to help our waters achieve that. Something to think about! 
At this deck and bar you can also get cold beers, water, and food! And, crossing the deck’s bridge over the ocean, you will reach the island with little villas, boutique hotels, a planetarium (did not get to see this) and beaches that will leave you in awe!
We spent about 2-3 hours in this magical island. After that our 6-hour tour was over and we headed back to the hotel. Exhausted!
After a nap and a refreshing shower, my team and I had dinner and drinks at the Yacht Club and later decided to watch the starts (one of the most mesmerizing skies I’ve ever seen) at the airport’s runway next to Embrace Resort. There was nobody there and not a single building to get in middle of that marvelous view. It was just us, the sky, the stars, and 3 to 4 charter planes parked near us. Priceless!
 
Day 3: Our last day in Staniel Cay. We woke up early, had coffee in the room (each villa at Embrace is equipped with a coffee machine and mini fridge), ate the peaches and bananas we had bought the day before at one of the tiny island super markets, and headed out to meet our captain again! This time he took us to a place I never in my life imagined visiting: Thunderball Grotto. This cave is only a 7-minute boat ride away from Embrace Resort and got its name from the 1965 James Bond spy film "Thunderball," which was shot there! How cool is that? The captain docked near the cave, we put on our snorkel gear and went for a little swim. The waters surrounding the cave were the clearest ones I had seen during our entire trip. With each move I could see and feel the colorful fishes swimming around me in perfect synergy. To get to the cave we free-dived and, the minute we came up for air, were immediately mind-blown by this gigantic cave with kaleidoscopic colors everywhere. On top of the cave you’ll find two big holes shaped in the perfect size for those adventurous souls wishing to defy fear and jump through them. Can you believe I did it?! One of the craziest things I’ve done in a while but would do it all over it again! (Watch the video to see my fall!) We enjoyed the scenery and the waters for about 1-2 hours and then headed back to the hotel to pack and say our “see you soon’s”.
Things you should have in mind about this cave:
-Take a gropro or underwater camera. It’s a must!!!
-If you intend to jump through the cave, you will need to climb up. I was crazy enough to do it barefoot but did get a few scratches on my feet. Take a pair of sneakers.
-When you jump, don’t have anything on you or with you!! A guy jumped before me and broke his gopro camera in pieces. Forget about the perfect picture and just enjoy the moment. The fall is very high!
 
Things to know about the eco hotel, Embrace Resort:
-Rent an electric golf cart ahead. They sell out pretty fast.
-Take eco shampoo and conditioner with you. The hotel only offers eco-friendly soap.
-The hotel’s restaurant and spa are still in the construction phase so you will need to dine at nearby restaurants or shop at the nearby supermarkets.
-Book your boat tour with Monique. I recommend this 100%!! We did the half-day tour and found it to be more than enough. You’ll get back to the hotel exhausted and sunburned!
-Say hi to the amazing Embrace team for me!
 
Sustainable Brands I wore and took with me:

-White shirtdress and bohemian bag: fair-trade and vegan by Guadalupe Design.

-Swim pieces: eco-friendly, fair-trade and non-toxic by Eco Peace Swim and Lume Swim Wear.

-Grey dress: organic cotton and fair-trade by Alternative Apparel.

-Coral espadrilles: vegan, made from natural materials and vegetable coating by BeyondSkin.

-Sunglasses: made from natural materials and supporting different charities by Westward Leaning.

-Black gladiators: recycled plastic by Melissa Shoes.

-Yoga wear: made from natural materials and fair-trade practices by PortdeBras.

-Panama hats: made from toquilla and contribute to the construction of homes for people in need in Ecuador by Artesano

-Fashion for Humankind: handpainted vintage jacket that supports art programs for kids by FashionKind.

-Superfood juices: made with natural, organic and holistic ingredients and supplements by REBBEL

   FOR VIDEO, click here.